This is a series on 1Corinthians, which has been the subject of personal Bible study around our house of late because of a friend who has a perverted view of Christianity.
The first nine verses of 1 Corinthians 1 introduced Paul’s letter. Here is our treatment of that and here is a little bit of the history of Corinth.
Paul wrote from Ephesus to the believers at Corinth, but also to believers everywhere and at all time. He thanked God for the salvation of the Christians at Corinth before he launched into correcting their errors. Their problem was not that they did not know God, but that they were not listening to God’s direction and choosing to allow their culture to affect their beliefs rather than the other way around.
The lessons Paul had for the saints of his day are applicable to our own lives in the 21 century. The conflicts which existed then are still very much with us today. We have conflict and strife in the churches, our homes, and at work. The gospel strikes at the heart of interpersonal conflicts, then and now.
A Biblical Challenge Regarding Corinthian Conflicts
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose. For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.”
Paul did not begin his correction of the Corinthian church with the problem of divisions but with a positive exhortation to maintain Christian unity. Paul’s call to unity in verse 10 sets the standard. Paul was not exhorting the saints to “all agree” on every subject. Remember, this letter was not written in English. This is a translation of ancient Greek. English does not have the same nuance as Paul’s language, so yes, you do need to dig into the language to understand what Paul meant. When we get to Chapters 8-10, which deal with matters of conscience, Paul clearly expected Christians to disagree on matters of conscience. He did not expect Christians to be in total agreement because our gifts influence our perspective and our viewpoint.
The textual critics claim the literal reading of this verse is “to speak the same thing.” This is quite different from agreeing on everything. When Christians have different convictions, they are not to publicly dispute with one another over them (Romans 14:1). When disagreements on non-fundamental areas of Christian doctrine arise, we are not supposed to air those disagreements before non-Christians and we really ought to be more circumspect about arguing over non-fundamental areas of doctrine.
Although the Greek word for ‘divisions’ (schismata) is that from which we derive the English word ‘schism,’ it does not in fact mean that, at least not in the sense of a ‘party’ or ‘faction.’ The word properly means ‘tear/rent’ (cf. Mark 2:21) or the ‘plowing’ of a field. The best illustration of the present usage is found in the Gospel of John (7:40-43; 9:16; 10:19-21), where various groups are said to have divided opinions about Jesus, meaning they were arguing with one another as to his significance. Thus Paul does not refer to distinctly formed groups of ‘parties’ here, but to divided opinions over their various leaders, which according to v. 11 and 3:3 have developed into jealousy and quarrels. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary, F. F. Bruce, General Editor, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987 [reprint, 1993]), p. 54.
Paul also wrote that the Christians in Corinth were to be made complete “in the same mind” and “in the same judgment.” For Paul, maturity was not just an individual matter but a corporate growth. Maturity is the process of the mending relationships that takes place through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Maturity and unity are inseparable. Those who are truly growing in Christ are those who are both growing up and growing together:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Having the “same mind” refers to the more general “disposition” or “way of thinking” of the Christian. To have “the same mind” is to have the same outlook or perspective. To have “the same judgment” is to agree as to a particular decision, to agree on a particular issue.
There are examples in other parts of the Bible. When the apostles and the rest of the 120 saints gathered in the upper room (Acts 1:12-14), they were all like-minded. They were one in spirit and in focus. And when they (rightly or wrongly) selected Matthias as the replacement for Judas, they came to the “same judgment.” They reached a particular decision with unity. The same kind of decision-making process can be seen in Acts 6:1-6 and 15:1-35. It wasn’t that they didn’t have disagreements that required debate, but that they came to an agreement that was acceptable to the whole and then stopped arguing about it.
If we were speaking in musical terms, Paul was not calling for the church to sing in unison—everyone singing the same note at the same time. Instead, he urged the entire church to sing in harmony. In a full voice choir, the many voices might sing different notes or the same notes in different keys and sometimes the bass or soprano section might sing something that sounds quite different from what the rest of the choir is singing. Yet all work to create a harmonious whole, a song that is beautiful. This is what Christian unity is about, being in harmony with one another even as we sometimes emphasize different parts of scripture or even do not wholly agree on secondary matters. Unfortunately, the Corinthian saints were not living up to the standard Paul set for them. There were quarrels and divisions in the church and Chloe’s people had told him of it. By the way, you might notice that Chloe’s people did not ignore what was going on and say “It’s none of our business”. They reported their concerns to Paul.
Paul wasn’t just concerned that the Corinthians were divided on which human to follow. There was also a group that were very proud of following Christ. Why would that be an issue? Because those who were “of Christ” did not need Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. They didn’t need an apostle. Today, some would insist they don’t even need the Bible. They can discern Christ’s mind by themselves without any outside help from others. These autonomous folks are the most frightening group of all because anyone seeking to correct them is considered “infidel”. These folks were saying, in essence, that we can’t know the mind of Christ if we don’t agree with those who believe themselves to have special insight from Christ. Paul agreed that these folks were the ones who most needed correction.
Paul’s Correction for Corinthian Conflicts
Paul’s rebuke and rebuttal to the Corinthian sin begins at verse 13 of chapter 1 and continues on through chapter 4, but in this lesson, we’re going to focus on just four verses of Chapter 1:
Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless.
Paul told the Corinthians, and by extension, Christians living in the 21st century, that there is no middle ground. You either are a follower of Christ or of men.
Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul went right to the core question:
Salvation is the work of Christ or it is a work of men. It cannot be both. All four of the groups mentioned by Paul in verse 12 were man-centered. The fourth group was a little more subtle about it, but all of these individuals took pride in themselves, based upon their perceived allegiance. Paul made a clear and unmistakable point:
Our salvation is totally about Christ’s work.
Man-centered believers need to be reminded of the gospel and recall that their salvation is Christ-centered. Christ has not been divided, so how can His body, the church, be divided? It was not Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, or any other mere human who died on the cross of Calvary. It was Christ Whose shed blood cleansed us from all sin.
Baptism is merely a symbol testifying to this fact. All of the Corinthian saints were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They were not baptized in the name of any man. Salvation is through Christ alone, and not through mere people, even if they were apostles.
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.
Baptism is a very prominent theme in these verses. Paul mentioned it six times. Some took pride in the person who baptized them, hinting that they looked down on others who were not baptized by as great a celebrity as their baptizer. Paul let the air out of their name-dropping balloons by telling them that baptism is not a celebrity affair. In fact, compared to preaching of the gospel, baptizing was a low priority for him. Do they take pride in the one who baptized them? Paul was glad he had not made baptizing a priority, because that meant they couldn’t claim his special seal of approval.
Paul viewed preaching the gospel as a much higher priority than baptizing new converts. Paul saw salvation as something which occurs independently of baptism. Baptism is important in that it is the believer’s public identification with Jesus Christ, but it is not the means of one’s salvation. It’s merely the outward manifestation of salvation. Paul rejected the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. People are saved by believing the gospel, and it was Paul’s priority to preach it. Baptism took second place to preaching in Paul’s life and ministry.
Jesus applied the same priority to proclaiming the gospel over working miracles in Mark 1:29-38.
This is why Brad and I can be involved in ministries like the Community Food Bank, the Rescue Mission and Prison Fellowship. There are denominational and theological differences among the groups that work in these interdominational groups, but we make it clear that proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is our primary goal in these ministries. Secondary practices and doctrines, while important, can prevent us from working together in unity, so we set those aside for the higher priority.